Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 23, 2010



LAPLACE – As a long-time veteran of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office, LaPlace resident Debbie Stricks said she never had many chances to see a parade on Mardi Gras Day, let alone ride in one.

“I always seemed to be scheduled on some kind of work duty for Mardi Gras Day,” Stricks said. “The only time I had ever gotten to ride was one year on (Sheriff) Harry Lee’s personal float.”

Stricks never imagined her second trip aboard a Mardi Gras float would be as queen of one of the oldest parading krewes in Jefferson Parish. In a break from tradition, the Krewe of Grela selected Stricks, a non-resident of Gretna, as the organization’s 63rd Queen.

“My first thought was, ‘You’ve got the wrong Debbie.’ I mean, I don’t live there any more and I was never even a member of the krewe,” Stricks said. “I grew up in old Gretna, lived along the parade route and was active in the community for a while, but it was still a definite surprise for me.”

Grela Secretary Carmen Kass said the krewe’s leadership normally picks a krewe member with some level of seniority to serve as king and that person picks his queen. Since the krewe could not find a queen candidate from within, Kass said Grela’s costume designer mentioned Stricks’ name, and the krewe contacted her.

“I’m beyond excited about this opportunity,” Stricks said. “I can’t wait to get up there and start throwing.”

Although she says she never really looked the part, Stricks said she spent 31 years working as a detective in the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.

“I was never the typical ‘rough and tough’ woman police officer that always gets depicted,” Stricks said. “People always used to say that I could chase criminals down in high heels if I needed to.”

Stricks retired from the force and moved to LaPlace in 2000 after she met her husband, St. John Parish defense attorney Richard Stricks. Contrary to what some believe, Stricks did not meet her husband on the job.

“We actually got together through mutual friends,” Stricks said. “I did some performing in live theatre in Gretna, and he performed in St. John. We went to quite a few live shows together and became close.”

Stricks said she was initially apprehensive about moving to LaPlace because she did not want to leave behind the “small town” feel of Gretna. After a short time in her new home, she realized that “small-town” atmosphere was more than prevalent in LaPlace.

“It’s nearly the same type of place,” Stricks said. “Everyone is pretty close, and almost everyone knows each other.”

After living in LaPlace for almost eight years, Stricks decided to get active in her new community. Motivated by the negative direction her neighborhood was heading, Stricks inquired about one of several open positions for code enforcement officials. She has now spent more than a year working part-time as an officer.

“It was quite a lot of work, but we get so much support from the community,” Stricks said.

The 20 floats of Grela roll through the streets of Gretna Feb. 16 starting at 11 a.m. The krewe’s theme is “Gretna – the home of Grela for 63 years.”